Being a working parent is often a balancing act, and being a political parent is even more so. Campaigning, committee meetings that run into wee hours, heading to Washington and leaving family behind all can lead to a household with one parent taking on the work of caring for the family and the other potentially absent.
It’s an issue that often is dredged up by rival campaigns, expressive faux-concern over the impact that a campaign win could have on a mother of children. Female candidates with children still at home will often be asked how they intend to do their jobs without overly burdening their children or spouses, and those women inevitably are asked to prove that they can do everything, be a mother and a lawmaker, or asked if certain higher offices or more public roles might be too much for the time being. Meanwhile, those of us who advocate for more gender parity in our political offices bemoan that male candidates are never asked these same questions.
That’s why it’s somewhat refreshing to hear a male politician speak in the same terms when it comes to being a legislator. Wisconsin Republican Congressman Paul Ryan has become a far right super star primarily because of his austerity budgets that gut the social safety net, and his star rose even higher in 2012, when he was asked to be Mitt Romney’s running mate during his losing presidential run.
Now, in 2014, with the Tea Party fully frustrated with Speaker of the House John Boehner, whom they feel isn’t standing fast enough on Republican principles, Congressman Ryan’s name has been bandied about as a possible replacement. The Congressman, in response, has said “no way.” One of his reasons for declining? He wants to remain a bigger part of his children’s lives.
“When Janna and I joined (Mitt Romney’s presidential) ticket, we looked at what would this do to our family, and we realized that actually we would see each other more in the vice presidency than as a member of the House,” Ryan said at a luncheon, according to Politico. “We would see each other less in the speakership than as a member of the House…I prefer spending my days on policy and my weekends at home with my family…I’m four days a week in D.C. and three days a week in Janesville — it’s a good mix, I like that mix.”
To be sure, there are likely a number of reasons that Congressman Ryan would want to decline the speakership beyond family obligation. For one, displacing a leader in your party seldom turns out to be a positive experience, and for someone who might be considering a run for president in the near future, it would be best not to ruffle any party feathers. Also, being speaker would open him up to a number of situations that could come back to haunt him on the campaign trail if he did go for the White House. The speaker will always and inevitably be the most partisan position a person could have, and as a presidential candidate who would need to eventually win over moderates to win, that partisanship would be flung back in his face.
Still, the focus on family is a refreshing admission that balancing the political and the parental isn’t just an issue for female lawmakers, but any lawmaker who wants to ensure he or she is also a vital part of the family structure. Yes, no female candidate should be pressured from higher political aspirations due to her home life. But if it is going to be made an issue, it is just as valid a question for campaign trail dads as it is for campaign trail moms.
So, thank you, Paul Ryan, for at least admitting that work and family balance is an issue that pertains to male politicians, not just female ones. Now let’s hope you actually meant it, and that you weren’t just using it as an excuse to hide behind.
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